On blurbing

As an author, I am not a big fan of the blurb — I generally find them superfluous and likely to say a whole lot of nothing very eloquently. There’s a blurb “style” that sort of makes my eyes roll back — they’re almost a literary genre in and of themselves. So, I seldom give them out (I had a terrible experience with a poet who I gave a measured blurb to who turned around and edited that blurb to sound more enthusiastic and put it on his book…yeesh), and even less seldom use them on my own work.

That said, I was very pleased to have three blurbs on the back cover of Glimpse, my first book of aphorisms back in 2010 (two poets I greatly admire and a third I also admire but who was an old friend). We sought out blurbs for that book for a couple reasons, one of which was that no one was really doing aphorisms here in Canada at that time (not even sure anyone else is now, frankly), and a few recommendations from some heavyweights went a distance towards getting people to actually pick up the book and give the form a chance, I think. It was something different, so it called for a different tactic.

My new book coming in September, Problematica, has a couple blurbs as well, both from writers I admire, along with some review quotes accumulated over the years, as well as a hearty introduction from a contemporary and pal (basically a more in-depth blurb). The reason we went with all this extra stuff is because a selected edition draws mostly from previous books, and it’s not something my generation here in Canada has done very often. As one of a handful of Gen X poets suddenly finding themselves middle-aged and trying to take stock of what they’ve accomplished, blurbs and intros seem a useful way to provide some context to browsers for why this book might be a) enjoyable, b) important to me and my work, c) necessary in an already saturated market of poetry.

So blurbs CAN be useful, but I think they have to be judiciously applied. I couldn’t have two better blurbers for this book, and I’m trilled to know these poets’ eyes have passed over my work. And if either of their opinions holds weight with someone who might like them but be skeptical about me, well, that’s a nice bonus.

It’s cliche, but books are judged by their covers. For one thing, often the cover lets the reader know what kind of book they are buying. White woman in a gown or a shirtless muscle-bound man: romance. Bright cartoon picture superimposed with san serif: young adult. Dark with silhouetted figure in the mist: mystery. Dripping font titles: probably horror. So, let’s say you’re a genre reader, have found your section in the bookstore, and are trying to find something new. The next thing to examine are the blurbs. If Neil Gaiman stans see he’s read and endorsed a book, they will be more likely to give it a try. Haruki Murakami says this book is a must read? Then read you must.



First, the link: a tribute to the acknowledgements page — which tells “the story behind the story”. Second, me bitching: I have complicated feelings about acknowledgements pages, and have come to dislike them. They can get pretty egregious. Like handing the mike to a grandparent at a wedding. When will it end? Who AREN’T they thanking? Well, old Grampa Zeke has the mic now and we just have to wait this one out.

Worse-still are the super-name-droppy ones wherein the author tries to head criticism off at the pass by tying themselves to powerful people, etc. It’s like kissing your imaginary cross and holding it up and saying, “first I’d like to thank Jesus, my lord and saviour” at an awards ceremony, except with Margaret Atwood in the place of Christ.

In fact, I have come to largely dislike a lot of the meta bits of books: dedications, bios, author photos, etc. etc. And for my last four books, I’ve really tried to keep that stuff to a minimum: brief dedication, if one at all; no head shot; no blurbs; brief bio; and an acknowledgements page that lists a few journals, some grants (we’re actually obligated to note these as part of the conditions of receiving our grants), and the people who actually worked on the poems within. If I can get it all into one paragraph, I’m happy. I mean, no one cares who I hang out with, nor does anyone want to watch me age via headshot, anyway — least of all me. It’d be like time-lapse of a head of cabbage rotting in the crisper.

That said, for this next book, a selected poems covering 25 years of work, I went with most of these things at the encouragement of my publisher: headshot, dedication, blurbs from writers I admire, 2 page acknowledgements, etc. Listen, it was covering six previous books as well as some new stuff. And that means six or seven books of people and publications to cite. Sue me. I broke my own rule. At least I have left Jesus and Peggy out of it.

The acknowledgments remind me of a playwright’s list of characters that come before the first act, a glance into the cast of a life and how a book is made. There are lovers, chosen families and birth families, friendships cascading from childhood into adulthood. There are teachers and classmates, the traces of the classroom where books sometimes begin. The agents and publishers and editors who have ushered forth the words between the covers. There are the institutions and residencies that, stitched together, create a map of where the book was written. And of course, there are the fellow artists, the writing groups, the people a writer thinks alongside, the strange blending of heroes become friends, of friends who are our teachers and most honest critics. The ones who saw the early scaffolding of a book and coaxed it along, staking it up like a tomato plant. In the white space around the black ink, I see the fury and exhaustion and hunger and mourning and delight of comradery in the process of making a book. 

Tuesday newsday

From “Cat Person” to THAT person

It’s raining analysis! Everyone seems to have a take on this hot button issue (lolz), but few are as smart as Ms. Ninja’s. Elisabeth de Mariaffi writes about the nature of truth and fiction in Macleans.

The entire weight of Cat Person, what made it resonate, was exactly the part that Nowicki says bears no resemblance to the truth—the dynamics between the pair, the bad sex, and the gut-punch ending, which “diverges completely from [her] reality.” It’s reasonable that Nowicki was taken aback to find the little details that matched. One wonders why Roupenian didn’t think to change them. In the end, do they even matter?

Fictional stories are not true stories. Fiction writers do not transcribe the truth, but rather use elements from life to create stories that feel Deeply True— so deeply true that they become universal. That resonance is what made Cat Person a success.